CT: Train Advocates Get Look at Stamford Station Plan

July 18--STAMFORD -- The developer of a project to replace the main garage at the Stamford train station with a hotel, residential and office complex presented details to a commuter advocacy group this week about how the project will affect train riders.

Stamford Manhattan Development, the firm selected by the state Department of Transportation to reinvent the station, walked the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council through the plan, which would create a new 975-space garage on South State Street, and replace the garage that is directly across the street from the train station with the new complex. The completed project would add at least 180 more parking spaces to the train station parking.

"I think this is an exciting project," John McClutchy, Jr., the principal of Stamford Manhattan Development Venture, told the council Wednesday night at a meeting of the government-appointed panel of rail advocates in the Government Center. Combined, the project would create 30,000 square feet of commercial space, 300,000 square feet of office, a 155-room hotel operation and 165 apartments. He estimated the whole project represents about a $1 billion investment in the city.

A resident of Darien, McClutchy said he's been developing properties in Stamford and across the nation for more than 40 years and this one is a transformative one. Part of the funding will come from the private sector and part from the state.

Council members offered a varying degrees of support for the project, especially the idea of adding more parking spaces, even if they would be farther from the train station than the current garage, but did have questions about conflicts with Stamford zoning and how a larger commercial operation would impact traffic around the station.

The council expressed concern about traffic flow around the station and whether the new project will increase that traffic.

Jeff Maron, a Stamford resident and member of the council, asked the DOT to come down to the station during the busy times to watch the existing problems.

The project is meant to be a transit-oriented development that would allow people living, working or staying in the new complex to do so without needing a car to get to and from the train station.

McClutchy admitted that if this were not a transit-oriented development, it could not be built in Stamford because of the city's parking space requirements for residents, the hotel, retail and office operations would far exceed the available space. With the goal of lessening the need for cars to be on the road around it, there can be exceptions given to allow fewer parking spaces, McClutchy and Sue Prosi, a council member pointed out.

The project was generated by demand for spaces at the Stamford station, the busiest Connecticut station on the Metro-North New Haven Line, and problems with the aging 1980s-era garage. There are holes in the concrete slabs and rebar is showing in numerous places. To address this, the DOT proposed creating a transit-oriented development at the site to encourage more use of trains and buses. The project would add more than 280 spaces for train parking, bringing the total to more than 1,000 spaces when the garage built in 2004 is counted. That garage is going to remain.

McClutchy noted that the initial designs he was showing the council contained some elements for which there was no state money available and the DOT would have to make a decision on those items. He was specifically talking about some improvements to the physical station that included some facade work as well as additional parking at the Manhattan Street building.

The project itself has created tension between the city and state which both McClutchy and Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Anna Barry noted during the council's meeting.

Some city land use officials have expressed concerns that they have been cut out of the process and that the DOT, which oversees the station, was not willing to go through the usual local approval process. Zoning Board member Barry S. Michelson has even penned a regulation regarding the construction on state property in the city, but has held off from holding a public hearing on the matter while the state and city discuss jurisdiction.

Wednesday night, the DOT and McClutchy said they want city input, but they are certain the state has jurisdiction over this project.

"It's our intent to follow the spirit of the city's zoning regulations but we feel we are not bound by it," Barry told the council, in describing the process for selecting Stamford Manhattan Development Venture to develop the station. She noted an request for qualifications was sent out and months of review went into the selection. She also said commuter input on what improvements were needed were also solicited.

McClutchy said he will not take a position on the issue of sovereignty but feels the DOT has a correct understanding of it.

He added he has met with city officials, including this week to discuss the project and his team is not proposing anything, other than the creation of iconic buildings, that hasn't been approved elsewhere. He supports having the city involved.

"I don't see why everyone can't be included in the process," he said.

Copyright 2014 - The Stamford Advocate, Conn.

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